[Croatia}

After a green summer, we have headed into a blue autumn. From lush green fields and majestic mountains we have descended into the dry, rocky Mediterranean landscape of Croatia. Leaving Slovenia was hard. It was a lovely place to while away, with its romantic landscape, undulating language and passionate people. We made lovely friends and even got a little culture lesson from a gregarious Slovenian/Austrian man called Peter.

A part from the cottage cheese filled dumplings, we didn’t sample much of the Slovenian food. Sure, there were plenty of sausages, potatoes and kefir. And a delicious sauce/dip called Ajvar, made from roasted capsicums, garlic and eggplant…

But the food I was looking forward to try was yet to come. The flavours of the Mediterranean…olive oil, olives, fish and maybe some spit roast. After all, the Croatian contingent in Australia is so famous for their spit roasts, it would be a shame not to take a sample…indeed, we saw several restaurants setting up their suckling pigs and lambs on a spit outside mid afternoon, ready for their dinner guests.

Entering Croatia, the landscape changed dramatically. Descending to sea level, the ground is bare, dry, rocky and incredibly windswept. We headed straight to the first big island to just relax by the sea (oh, we still need relaxing….). We have been warned that campgrounds charge an exorbitant amount for a scraggy spot. Of course Piers, our purse master, was not having any of that. 70Euro for a campground was not what he budgeted for and I must give him credit…he mostly sniffs out a cheaper option that does not involve sleeping on a supermarket parking, although he did suggest it a couple of times.

So, none of the swanky Big4 with trampoline, jumping castle, hot showers and Germans for us. No. Instead, we found ourselves on a dry patch of the island, but with a magical view and front row seats, surrounded by tourists from all around the Balkans and the odd German. 25 Euros convinced us to linger for 3 days. I guess driving our Knaus Mobile is hard work and Piers takes his time to recuperate. Several beers and naps a day usually do the trick and we can hit the road again. We do occasionally wonder how we will ever manage to go through the day without a midday nap or beer o’clock…Piers has taken to the travelling rhythm like a duck to water. With no watches and alarms, it is such a novelty to follow our natural body clock. Which for him includes several naps, long sleeps and hours of doing nothing. Broken up by a long lunch and a late dinner. What have we in the prosperous West done with our natural rhythms? We don’t usually linger too long on thoughts of ‘when we get back’. Not yet at least.

So back to Croatia.

The first dip into the Mediterranean was sweet or better, very salty….and we discovered how much saltier the sea is. Swimming is actually hard work, as you keep bobbing up like a cork.

I had my heart set on visiting Plitvice Lakes inland. A massive National Park with lakes and waterfalls and long walks, it is meant to be a very protected area of natural perfection. We left the Island of Krk after a night of heavy rains. It cleared up by mid morning and so we drove over those windswept mountains and into the valley behind. What an astonishing contrast! From moon landscape back to lush green fields and pine trees. But as we drove through village after village we noticed something eerie. Many houses were abandoned, dilapidated or destroyed completely. Some did show signs of what we thought were artillery damage. We have yet to do some research on what areas of the country were affected by the war, but it was a bit sad and sobering seeing these villages so empty and damaged. The land is scarcely populated and you can’t help but wonder how this country is surviving.

Unfortunately, torrential rains followed us inland, and after half a day waiting for some reprieve, we gave up on Plitvice and drove back to the coast. The lakes will have to wait for our next trip….in about 10 years time we estimate….

We headed to the town of Zadar for the night. A lovely medieval town filled to the brim with sailing tourists and so, so many Germans…(if France was full of Dutch, then Croatia is Germany’s holiday destination…history, politics….what makes a holiday destination popular? I wonder who favours Italy?)

On to Sibenik, another roman city, with scattered islands and medieval forts. Glowing in the sun golden and white, with shiny and slippery cobbled stones.

We pressed on to Split, our destination to catch a ferry to the Island of Brac, where we organised an apartment for the week. Cheaper that a campground, we are so looking forward to a week in a spacious apartment by the water. Again, we are pinching ourselves. A magical spot with views across the mainland, with its flickering lights. Turquoise clear water and yellow stone houses. These are the moments Piers and I look at each other and wonder. How we made this happen? How do we deserve such bliss? (But then I once again have to separate and restrain warring boys and I wonder if we should have planned this trip for when the kids have moved out???).

We think of the years of hard work building our house. The stress, tears and heartache. The moments, when we thought it would never end, the feeling of being stuck. But it did end. We took a great leap of faith, finished our house, tied up loose ends and took our family away on what we thought would be the adventure of a lifetime. Time to reconnect, recuperate. And so we are here. If you ask the kids, they probably would be just as happy taking 6 months off and stay at home….they are often homesick and especially Timon struggles with it, which then reflects in his behavious at times. But what they most miss and can’t verbalise, is time apart. Space to be themselves and come together again as a family. They are great friends, with a close bond. But being so close together 27/7 is sometimes hard. So they bicker and fight. Intensely and sometimes violently. And amazingly, they come together again as a strong threesome. As parents we sometimes forget how close they can be. We vacillate between managing their fights, interfere and coax them into agreement and then to just leave them to their own devices, to fight it out till the end. Sometimes neither of those approaches work and we are left a bit helpless…just there to pick up the pieces….And then, infuriatingly, they are off having the best time, and we are nursing our anger, frustration and parental failures. But alas, we are still here and all I am hoping is that we will come home closer, with a greater understanding of each other, tolerant and nourished. At least in hindsight, when only the good memories prevails, as they always do.

In fact, as we speak, they are off on an underwater adventure. They scored 3 snorkels and are discovering the (few) fish that float just below them, in those ridiculously clear waters….I can see them from our balcony…again, pinching myself for the good fortune…

Piers unfortunately is not with us. He took the ferry last night to Ancona, Italy, to meet his Dad who is in Italy. Doing car stuff and looking for engines to take home….I know…

So it is just me and the kids sampling fried sardines and calamari and cream filled donuts, while we languish by the water…

 

Our blissful island week ended with an overnight ferry ride across the sea to Italy. We are all looking forward to our Italian leg for different reasons and with different expectations. A bit more history for the kids with Rome and Florence on the program. Some more culinary highlights for me and maybe a car engine for Piers…

 

Until Italy,

 

Alex

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